Part 9: Difficulties & Champion MonstersDifficulty & "Champion" Enemies
One of the main things to note in Darkest Dungeon is the game's progression system. The game only has four "biomes," however each one will have a different degree of mission difficulty depending on the level distribution of all your heroes. These missions are color coded, with Green being Apprentice, Yellow being Veteran, and Red being Champion dungeons. Each difficulty indicates various things for the mission: The difficulty rank will determine how much progress you've made to the next boss, how much EXP your heroes will get, whether or not certain heroes will get stressed by going there or even bother going on the mission, and most importantly influence the enemy spawns of each area.
One of the hardest juggling acts in Darkest Dungeon is managing your hero level in order to manage the mission difficulty pool. Veteran/Champion missions will start spawning the moment you get a lvl 3/5 hero, and it can affect where you would want to go if say a Long Champion mission is the only thing to appear in the cove when you're trying to kill the veteran Siren. The more common juggling act though is keeping enough rookies to actually kill all 8 bosses, and should your heroes advance to a certain level they will not go to any missions they deem "beneath their abilities." Alongside having to manage your team levels to match the tempo of the game, advancing difficulties also buff various stats such as HP, DODGE, PROT and many of the resistances, so heroes that haven't kept up with their skill leveling or gear upgrades will find themselves in a bad spot once they make that jump up to the next tier of dungeons. Enemy AI is also slightly changed for each tier of difficulty, tending to favor alpha strikes on a single target and favoring stress damage attacks due to their sticky nature. Every enemy you see in Apprentice mode also gets upgraded with new attack-riders for their attacks, such as Cultist Brawlers getting +Stress damage on their Rend, and Pig Butchers now wickedly reduce healing received on a target.
The big change though is the addition of new monsters per difficulty, vastly changing the tactics players use as they progress through the game. Once upon a time this only happened once and it felt like a squandered opportunity, however mid-LP the devs added monsters that only appear in the Champion-tier of difficulty to keep the dungeons new and dangerous once you hit that final echelon. On the note of these enemy designs, the Veteran-tier of monsters were honestly considered godsends in dungeons since they would take up two spaces in a fight while only having one action, effectively tipping things in the players favor through less actions on the enemy side. Amusingly enough, Champion-tier enemies are much more threatening in this regard since they are all size-1 enemies but packed way more of a punch.
With all that out of the way, let's look at all these new enemies.
Common Elite Enemies:
The Gargoyle (Threat Level: Medium)
-Gargoyles are kinda neat in my opinion, since they are crowd-control enemies that can replace anyone in a fight and are probably the best mix of PROT vs HP balancing. These enemies bring a mix of crowd control into the field: Their main attack is Flurry of Claws which just punches the first two rows with moderate damage; meanwhile Lash of the Tail can hit anyone for a stun and knockback chance. Both of these moves also possess a 11-12% chance to crit, so there's a chance it could throw you off-balance with their damage output. These guys aren't alarming by any means, but they are still a distinct threat compared to other enemies in the game.
The Ghoul (Threat Level: Medium)
-Ghouls are the other elite enemy that can appear in any biome, and while they're a bit more threatening than the Gargoyle through stress damage their size of two tends to ruin most encounter compositions. Ghouls have three attacks: Their primary attack is Rend which can hit the first two ranks for moderate damage alongside a sizable bleed proc; Their other, most threatening attack imo is Skull Toss , which can hit the back two ranks for moderate damage, heavy stress damage, and also comes with a heavy stun as well; Their last attack is Howl, which can hit everyone at a relatively low accuracy for stress damage and also reduces the torch level by 10. Ghouls are definitely more distinct of a threat to see in fights, mainly due to Skull Toss tending to lock up your support team and possibly triggering a resolve check. Being a size 2 enemy though, they don't pack enough of a punch to really merit the drop in enemy actions.
Sadly there's no Champion-specific enemy that roams around in every biome. Oh well.
Elite Ruins Enemies:
Bone Spearman (Threat Level: Medium; Veteran & Champion spawn)
-The Bone Spearmen are basically Bone Arbalests on crack. They are exclusively an enemy that does damage, and they're pretty good at it. They only have two attacks: From any rank, they can use Spear Thrust on anyone for a decent amount of damage; If they are in rank 1-2 however they can hit everybody with Impale for less damage overall but with a wicked-high 15-16% crit rate. Being a bonehead though, they are really susceptible to stun and blind, but if they get a hit off it generally hurts.
Bone Captain (Threat Level: High; Veteran & Champion spawn)
-The Bone Captain is one of the few two-size elite enemies who's size actually contributes to their threat value. These guys always appear at the front, making it generally harder to access the back-row enemies. They come with a pretty large chunk of HP and PROT, so they've also got durability to match their chuft. Their attacks are fairly well-synergized: Their main attack is Crushing Blow, which does decent damage but also has an attack-rider that lowers stun-resist; their other attack is Ground Pound, which does light damage but can stun everyone it hits. Both skills also have a decent crit chance. I would generally consider these guys top priority to kill, however they often find themselves teamed up with even bigger threats so they often live to get a bunch of crushing blows off on me.
Bone Bearer (Threat Level: DIE; Champion exclusive)
-Once upon a time, I thought the ruins were a joke of a level. Then Red Hook made this guy. The Bone Bearer is a great support unit for the enemies by means of bolstering the undead armies that infest the ruins. Simply by existing, these guys buff every enemy's damage by +25%, and when paired with arbalests or spearmen that damage is substantial. They can also actively buff any of their allies with Wicked Surge, buffing damage by +25% more. If ever caught in the front row, they can defend themselves with Defend the Icon, punching a guy in the mouth and moving back one. Their biggest threat however is if you leave these guys alive and kill anyone else, which will result in them having a free action at the end of the round to use Unholy Rally, resurrecting any corpse left behind to full health. You want these guys to die first, which is awful because while you're putting the boots to this guy, every other enemy will be punching you in the face for boosted damage. That is insidious.
They also have max stun resist. This was something they had to buff on like day one of Radiant-Mode release since you could stun away his revival easily.
Elite Warrens Enemies:
Large Carrion Eater (Threat Level: Low; Veteran & Champion spawn)
-Big Carrion Eaters are meant to synergize with the Pig Drummer and form a mark party, however the result is nothing worth noting. These guys come with average HP, no PROT at all, and low DODGE, so they don't really tank all that well. They can use Weaken Prey to both mark a target and reduce their damage via a debuff. They can also use Tentacle Devour to do hefty damage to a marked target, along with reducing their crit chance. Despite relying on the Mark mechanic and being able to easily get said mark, the payoff is not even threatening compared to the other elite enemy in the warrens. Hell, even the regular Carrion Eater is more of a threat due to Blight damage. I just ignore them for the other, more substantial threats.
The Swinetaur (Threat Level: High; Veteran & Champion spawn)
-Ladies & Gentlemen, it pleases me to announce the five-time heavyweight champion of Darkest Dungeon and possibly the biggest pain bar-none. The Swinetaur is the other elite enemy to appear in veteran missions onward, and they bring the pain. In general, they have high HP, high PROT, decent DODGE, high resistances, and are quite mobile with their attacks with how often they change positions. When in the front row they will do one of two things: they will either hit 1-2 random targets with Crushing Backhand for light damage and a stun, or use Trot Retreat which actively does nothing but move the Swinetaur to the back row. Once in the back row they have two attacks that both propel him forward: Pig Spear does decent damage, has a light crit chance, and knocks a target two backward; meanwhile Boar Rush does heavy damage, has a heavy crit rate, comes with a huge stun proc and flings the target all the way to rank 4. One thing to note however, he cannot use any of his spear moves unless he's in "Rank 4," so if you manage to both kill every other enemy and also clear their corpses then all he has is the Backhand. The big issue though is surviving several rush-downs until then.
Swine Skiver (Threat Level: High; Champion exclusive spawn)
-Now for the contender for the heavyweight champion of this game, the Skiver is a new and exotic threat in the Warrens. This guy loves to both shuffle among his enemies and also do wicked AoE damage. The Skiver comes with a respectable amount of HP, high DODGE and light PROT as well so he can take a few hits. His big attack is Cripple Them, which targets rank 2-4 with high damage, a blight proc AND a debuff that reduces your dodge and speed. That move sucks royal with how much primary and DoT damage that stupid thing does, but the -Speed is also the worst if it actually connects. Their other big attack is Spit to Roast which does huge damage, has a 19% crit chance, and sends your target flying to rank 4 with a stun proc along with it, and moves the Skiver forward one space. If the Skiver finds himself too close to the front row, he will do Goring Flight for light damage but automatically resets him back to rank 4 so he can use his other skills. This guy is raw damage and does a massive amount of it, and he should probably die first and foremost since other Warrens enemies are not that threatening.
Elite Weald Enemies:
The Crone (Threat Level: Medium; Veteran & Champion spawn)
-The Crone is basically the Cultist Witch 2.0, which sucks since they can spawn alongside Cultist Witches as well. They don't have much HP or resistances, but they have stupid-high DODGE rates so hitting them in general is a hassle unless you have a Graverobber or Arbalest. Their big annoyance is Curse of Vulnerability, which reduces the Accuracy and Dodge of 1-2 random targets alongside marking them for the mushroom enemies. Their other main attack is Embrace the Dark, which can hit 1-2 random heroes for stress damage alongside reducing the torch level by 10. If a Crone ever finds herself in the front row however, she resorts to Fetid Censer to do blight damage and also attempt to disease the front two heroes. These things are a big hassle, and their huge dodge rate makes them a priority target that often eludes everything you throw at it.
The Unclean Giant (Threat Level: Mighty Casey; Veteran & Champion spawn)
-This is an elite enemy that I don't know how to feel about, especially after several hours in this LP spent bull-rushing the Weald. The Giant is a creature that's just a sack of HP and crowd control, along with a big stick he's not afraid to use. Treebranch Smackdown is a move with relatively low accuracy, however it does a huge range of damage (13-26 on Veteran, 20-40 on Champion), heavy crit rate, and can send someone flying. Getting baseball swung sucks in general, but especially on Champion mode when it typically sends everyone barring the Leper & Man at Arms straight to Deaths Door without even batting an eye. His other moves are way less threatening: Poison Spores can hit one target with decent blight damage, and Confusion Spores shuffles your entire party alongside reducing Accuracy. This is an all-or-nothing enemy, but when he gives it his all then your team will get its shit stomped as a result.
The Hateful Virago (Threat Level: Maximum; Champion exclusive enemy)
-The Virago is an extremely dangerous enemy in so many aspects. She starts with a decent HP pool, 48 Dodge, and (for some weird reason) 7% prot so she's a tough nut to hit let alone crack. The attack she will be doing most often is Ruinous Hex which, while its listed as a random chance, will quite often hit 1-2 people with a decent amount of damage, a debuff that reduces ACC and Dodge heavily, and also marks each victim. This is such an irritant because -ACC in combination with nearly 50 dodge means this thing is so hard to touch. Her other, way less threatening attack, is Putrid Breath which hits for high damage, a bleed proc, and knockback 1. Her biggest threat however, and the main reason why I consider her the worst champion enemy EVER, is her free action if you leave any corpses on the field: From Death comes Life will convert a corpse into a mushroom enemy with the passive ability of locking any HP restoration skills. This is not just things like Divine Comfort or Wyrd Healing, this is also dumb shit like Judgement, Rallying Cry, Lick Wounds, Endure, Adrenaline Rush, the list goes on. Never leave a corpse around if a Virago is on the field, because you will regret it.
The Virago also has max stun resist much like the Bone Bearer, so its gimmick is going off. Also for shits and giggles:
-It has 33 HP, and its existence blocks HP restoration. If you let this exist, you have a new priority target.
Elite Cove Enemies:
Uca Crusher (Threat Level: Medium; Veteran & Champion spawns)
-Oh no, my precious neck! Despite the Uca Crusher being the only enemy that can achieve double-digit bleed procs, he's actually quite tame compared to everything else in the cove. He comes with decent HP levels, high PROT and no evasion, and despite his high stun resist he actually doesn't have much in terms of resistances. His big attack that everyone hates is Arterial Pinch, which does pitiful base damage but does 8-10 bleed damage/turn and has a decent crit rate, which can make that 24-30 damage become 40-50 damage. His other attack is Tidal Slam, which does medium damage but also has a chance to stun and send the target flying to the 4th position. Now while this thing has high DoT output, packing bandages or just bringing a plague doctor completely neuters it.
Squiffy Ghast (Threat Level: High; Champion exclusive enemy)
-You know how I discovered that Finale Jesters are rad and started using them more? Well so did Red Hook. The Squiffy Ghast is the Cove's version of the Finale Jester, but with a totally different damage value. He has decent HP and high dodge, and has a relatively high stun resist but not maximum resist. The Ghast has two attacks that it does in a specific order. If it's not in position 1, it will use Maddening Shanty to do some mild stress damage, make a target more susceptable to stress damage, and moves him to position 1. Once he's at position 1 he will then use Offkilter Jig, which not only does 10 stress damage to everyone it applies an entirely new status effect: Horror. This new status effect is a Stress DoT, doing 5 Stress per turn across 4 turns, and being modified by +/-Stress damage. There's also one distinct thing about Horror: it is impossible to remove. Once you get hit with Offkilter Jig, you are guaranteed taking about 30 stress damage to everyone. Which is kinda dumb in terms of difficulty balance.
A sidenote: There's an achievement for killing a Ghast with a Jester, called Mine goes to 11. I have said achievement because Finale rules. Its also apparently the rarest achievement as of this post.